On Denials & Affirmation of Exile

When I was a child, my mother asked me on a regular basis what I wanted to be when I grew up. Every time, the answer was different, but almost always, it was one I knew she’d approve of, keep her excited until the next time she asked. My father thought my curiosity and indecision was a good thing; it meant I hadn’t closed myself off to options.

But once, he decided to ask me what the flavor of the week was, and I responded simply “I don’t really care, as long as I can make a lot of money.”

He hesitated, confused, “That’s not like you. You know you can make enough money to be okay doing a lot of things. Why would you say that?”

I told him “I want to buy back and rebuild Isdoud.”

I think it was the only time in my life that I left my father speechless.

Of course, we grow up and we realize our dreams operate in a world hostile to their realization. We grow up and we find other ways to come close to our desires. And for brief moments, we are children again – letting our minds wander towards the far out of reach. Something small lets us start to picture alternate dreams; our privilege lights new paths home. But, it doesn’t take long for something to remind you that you have let your plans get away from you.

picstitchThat moment when you trust a piece of paper given to you by a place you’ve known your whole life as untrustworthy – suddenly the simple week away becomes the trip back you’ve always dreaded.

But we Palestinians have been trained well. We are familiar with the inside of a waiting room – the stiff chairs, the stale air, the pacing, never letting them see us sweat. And yet, the confines of a waiting area bring ease and control.

Denial of entry at a border is also a rejection of continuing the life you’ve planned out, and it requires a decision of whether to walk away or push back.

Walking away is a difficult option to accept and pushing back also has its limits. Staying in limbo, choosing the fight, is an outward expression of a secret inner optimism that this will end up going your way. Even when you start to know better, giving in seems unforgivable.

When the waiting room expands, your training fails you.

Waiting with freedom, even encouragement, of movement, distance of location, attachments lingering, and opportunities present across borders – is a waiting area that brings paralyzation, confusion, a loss of all ease and control you once knew.

Support from loved ones, colleagues, and students and their families comes in many forms – the realist masking pessimism in anger, the optimist masking anger in determination, the confused masking it all by encouraging ambivalence, the ones just missing you and vice versa, and everything in between.

Yet, if you have nothing left to lose, if the compromised mini-dream of a home on loan is gone, then you ask yourself, why not, on the way out, embarrass those that stole it from you? And in the same breath you answer your own question – to be embarrassed, one must possess shame.

And your mother tries to ease your pain, in her own way. “Stop crying, habibti. The whole nation is in exile.”

Of course, she is right. And of course, the truth is that you always have been. The only difference is now it’s on paper somewhere in a “security” office.

Israel, like all colonial entities steeped in the philosophy of divide and conquer, does not like it when we young Palestinians talk to or see each other. They like it even less when we do it in our homeland. Exile and diaspora comes in many forms, and the makers of our diaspora adapt to the ways we, whether exiled or occupied, try to fight it.

I suppose from the colonizer’s perspective, the beloved high school teacher, the inspiring poet, the critical academic, the son visiting his mother, the sister coming to meet her first niece, the husband wanting to hold his wife’s hand as their first child is born are bridges that need burning.

But we Palestinians also adapt, and they never seem to learn that such actions feed a determination in us that makes our bonds grow stronger, that the bridges we build between ourselves cannot be torn down with such ease.

It’s a funny thing about standing up against injustice, marching towards danger – taking risks for a greater good becomes easier when you know those backing you up are as determined as you are. With every denial, another member of the exile community is reaffirmed in his/her position and simultaneously empowered to speak out. With every attempt to erase our Palestinian-ness, the colonizer instead foolishly reminds us how little the new blue passport we carry matters. With every heartbreak, the voices of a generation scattered find their way back to each other.

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2 responses to “On Denials & Affirmation of Exile

  1. Salaam Noor,
    I’m Azar, and I wanted to kindly ask for your advice on a project I have in mind. The idea is to collect and document oral histories of Nakba – I will spend the coming summer in camps of southern Lebanon. I could not find your email on this page. I would really appreciate it if you could let me know how to best contact you. Shukran1

  2. Hi Azar! I’m so sorry. I never saw this comment. You are welcome to contact me via DM on twitter @nsdoud and I will privately send you my email. Hope you’re well.

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